Caught between two year old and boyfriend

I have a two year old daughter who won't stay in her bed for the whole night.When this happens my boyfriend is usually spending the night. I used to think she was just after my attention, so I asked my boyfriend to come over after she had already gone to sleep, but somehow she still senses his presence and tiptoes in. What can I do to make her stay in her room without making her feel like I'm not devoting all my love and attention to her?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You are experiencing a dilemma between your own interpretation of motherly devotion and your burgeoning relationship. It may well be your own internal conflict that is coloring your interpretation of your daughter's behavior. It is possible that your daughter is merely curious about who is coming and going in the night and is waking up to check out the changes that are occurring in her environment!

Rather than trying to hide the facts from your daughter, try letting her know in advance what is going to happen. Let her know when your boyfriend will be coming over and consider spending special time reading to her as a bedtime ritual rather than leaving her alone to play herself to sleep. This gives her the message that she is special and bedtime is associated with getting connected with you prior to falling asleep. You can also let her know that she will be included in breakfast in the morning, or saying "good-bye" to your boyfriend when he leaves. This may assure her that her space in your life is secure whether or not your boyfriend is spending the night.

If you give your daughter your full attention regularly and on a consistent basis, she will learn that you also give attention to your boyfriend in ways you deem appropriate. She will adjust to your expectations for sharing you with a significant other if your communication is clear. Resolve your own guilt by taking special time to connect at bedtime and letting her know when your boyfriend will be spending the night. Let her know that you expect her to stay in her own bed at night, and provide a special night light and stuffed animals if they are soothing to her.

If she does appear at your bedside, simply take her back to her own bed and tuck her in with her animals. Be certain that your expectations that she sleep in her own bed are consistently upheld whether or not your boyfriend stays overnight, as she could otherwise feel (legitimately) misplaced by his presence.

It may take a few times of getting up in the night before your daughter is reassured that all is OK and that what goes on is exactly what you told her was going to happen. Your truthfulness and reliability will afford her even greater security and trust in your love. This should help both of you sleep more peacefully!

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